Tangier laid down under a Maritime Commission contract (MC hull 51) as Sea Arrow on 18 March 1939 at Oakland, California, by Moore Dry Dock Company; launched on 15 September 1939; sponsored by Mrs. Joseph R. Sheehan; renamed Tangier (AV-8) on 3 June 1940; acquired by the Navy on 8 July 1940; and commissioned in ordinary on that same day, Commander Clifton A. F. Sprague in command.
Tangier remained at Oakland for over a year, undergoing conversion to a seaplane tender. Finally, on 25 August 1941, she went into full commission and put to sea on her shakedown cruise. At the completion of shakedown training, she was assigned as tender to Patrol Wing (PatWing) 2, based in Hawaii. She arrived at Pearl Harbor on 3 November and moored abaft the former battleship USS Utah now serving as an antiaircraft training ship, AG-16. There, the seaplane tender spent the last month of peacetime caring for her brood of flying boats.
At 0755 on the morning of 7 December 1941, the first of two waves of Japanese carrier-based planes swooped in on the U.S. Pacific Fleet, moored at Pearl Harbor. Tangier, still abaft Utah, was in the fight from the beginning. Her klaxon sounded general quarters three minutes later; and, by 0800, her antiaircraft batteries opened up on the swarm of "meatball"-emblazoned planes. During the ensuing melee, Tangier's gunners claimed three enemy planes and hits on a midget submarine which had penetrated the harbor's defenses. She and her sister seaplane tender, USS Curtiss (AV-4), shelled the submarine, but destroyer Monaghan (DD-354) finished it off with a two-pronged attack, subjecting it to a ramming and following up with a cascade of depth charges. By 0920, the skies were clear of planes, and only the smoke from the burning ships and shore installations remained. Tangier began rescuing survivors from capsized Utah.
During the next few days, it became apparent that the Japanese would soon attempt a landing on Wake Island, a desolate speck in the ocean but a strategic American outpost located almost astride the 20th parallel, some two-thirds of the way from Oahu to Guam and almost due north of the Marshall Islands. By mid-December, the seaplane tender was loaded with supplies, ammunition, and equipment for the desperate but thus far victorious defenders of Wake Island. Then, she rode idly at anchor for two days while USS Saratoga (CV-3), the carrier around which the Wake relief force was to be built, steamed to Pearl from San Diego. "Sara" entered Pearl Harbor on 15 December, and Tangier departed the same afternoon in company with USS Neches (AO-5) and a destroyer division while the carrier refueled. Saratoga caught up to the slow-moving little convoy on the 17th, and the task force advanced on Wake.
At this point, Admiral Kimmel was replaced by Admiral Nimitz as Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet. It was an unfortunate time to make such a change for, in the space of time it took Nimitz to make it from Washington to Pearl Harbor, confusion and indecision reigned in the Pacific. The immediate result was a failure to press home the relief expedition, and this unfortunate combination of circumstances caused the loss of Wake Island and its gallant garrison. On 23 December, after a three-day struggle against overwhelming odds, the defenders succumbed. The relief expedition was ordered back to Oahu. Tangier sailed via Midway Island, where she disembarked the men and equipment of Marine Fighting Squadron 221 to bolster that island's defenses and embarked civilian evacuees. The seaplane tender returned to Pearl Harbor on the last day of 1941.
On 11 February 1942, Tangier put to sea again and headed, via Pago Pago and Suva, to New Caledonia. She arrived in Noumea on 3 March and relieved Curtiss as tender for six flying boats. For the next three and one-half months, she performed routine tender services for PBY's flying long-range searches to the north of New Caledonia, almost as far as the lower Solomons. Between late April and early May, her brood of seaplanes was increased to 12 in anticipation of a fleet action in the Coral Sea. When the battle came to pass, however, her amphibians had to content themselves with rescuing survivors of USS Sims (DD-409) and USS Neosho (AO-23), sunk on 7 May by the Japanese who mistook them for a cruiser and carrier, respectively, and of the torpedoed Greek freighter SS Chloe. The search continued until 13 May, days after the end of the crucial battle. Coral Sea was a tactical victory for the Japanese—the U.S. Navy lost more tonnage— but a strategic victory for the United States. It stopped the southward advance of the "Rising Sun" and set the stage for the American victory in the Battle of Midway by temporarily robbing the Japanese of two of their newest fleet carriers, Shōkaku and Zuikaku. Shōkaku was incapacitated by battle damage, and Zuikaku lost a high percentage of her veteran aviators.
After their rescue operations for survivors of Allied ships lost in the Coral Sea action, Tangier's planes resumed normal search operations. On 30 May, two of her seaplanes were forced down at sea by fuel shortage, and a third crashed near Mare Island in the Loyalty group. Destroyer USS Meredith (DD-434) went out to aid the two planes. One was refueled and returned safely, but the other could not take off and had to be sunk. The crew of the third plane reached safety at Mare Island. On 20 June, Tangier was relieved by Curtiss and, the following day, got underway for the west coast. She reached Pearl Harbor on Independence Day 1942 and stood out again three days later. On the 15th, she arrived in San Francisco and immediately began overhaul.
Tangier completed overhaul in September and, after loading aviation equipment at the Alameda Naval Air Station, departed San Francisco for Pearl Harbor, Suva, and ultimately Espiritu Santo, where she arrived on 29 February 1943. There, she unloaded her stores and commenced tending seaplanes. She continued routine operations until 12 August, when she got underway for Pearl Harbor. Tangier made Oahu on the 28th. During September and October, she made two voyages from Pearl Harbor to American Samoa and one to San Diego, before returning to Espiritu Santo on 6 November with a load of aviation cargo. On the 14th, she headed back to the United States, arriving in San Diego on 3 December for another yard overhaul.
On 21 February 1944, the seaplane tender headed west again. She reached Espiritu Santo on 8 March and, after a four-day layover, continued on to Brisbane, Australia, where she became the flagship of the Commander, Aircraft, 7th Fleet, on 21 March. Two days later, she headed north to support General MacArthur's advance up the back of the New Guinea "bird." After stops at Milne Bay and Langemak Bay, she dropped anchor in Seeadler Harbor, Manus, on 31 March. She remained there for three months, tending her Catalinas as they supported the landings at Wakde, Noemfoor, and Biak and generally supported the 7th Fleet's advance. On 31 July, she moved to Woendi Anchorage located just off Biak, at the head of the New Guinea "bird." Tangier conducted seaplane operations from there until 19 September, when she got underway for Morotai. The tender arrived off Morotai on the 21st and supported the invasion, undergoing intermittent air attacks, until 1 December, when she headed back to Manus. She anchored in Seeadler Harbor again on 5 December.
Tangier visited Woendi again on 22 and 23 December; then sailed for the Philippines. She entered Kossol Roads, in the Palaus, on Christmas Day and departed again the following day. On 29 December, she arrived in San Pedro Bay, Leyte Gulf, and began operating her seaplanes from there. For almost a month, her charges supported various operations in the Philippines. These included the Lingayen invasion and air strikes on the numerous smaller islands of the archipelago. In fact, their primary mission appears to have been air-sea rescue work in support of the air strikes.
On 24 January 1945, Tangier departed Leyte and headed for Lingayen Gulf, arriving three days later. Her Catalinas and Mariners conducted night barrier patrols of Luzon Strait and the South China Sea along with night searches and antishipping flights along the China coast in the vicinity of Formosa. On 12 February, the seaplane tender moved to Mangarin Bay, Mindoro, to run day searches over the South China Sea as far north as the coast of French Indochina and Hainan Island. She concluded operations from Mangarin Bay on 7 March and headed for Subic Bay, Luzon. She arrived there on the following day and departed on the llth. Tangier anchored in Cabalitian Bay, off Cabalitian Island, on the 12th and commenced seaplane operations. For the next three months, her planes flew searches and antishipping missions over the South China Sea in the direction of Hong Kong, Swatow, and Formosa.
The seaplane tender exited Cabalitian Bay on 17 June and arrived in Subic Bay the following day. Soon thereafter, she moved to Manila Bay, departing there on 25 June. On the 27th, she stopped at San Pedro Bay; then continued east toward the United States. She reached Pearl Harbor on 10 July and San Francisco on 20 July. She was overhauled at the Moore Dry Dock Co. and then ordered back to the Far East for occupation duty. On 24 September, she exited San Francisco and headed back across the broad Pacific. Sailing via Adak, Alaska, she reached the vicinity of Yokosuka during the second week in October. After two months of occupation duty in Japan, Tangier moved to Kowloon Bay, China, in December for air-sea rescue, patrol, and courier duty. In January 1946, she returned to Japan for another brief tour of duty with the occupation forces. Late in February, she moved from Sasebo to Okinawa, where she remained until late March.
On the 22d, Tangier set sail for the United States. She made a brief visit to Pearl Harbor in early April and transited the Panama Canal in mid-month. She reached Norfolk, Va., on the 29th and Philadelphia, Pa., on 1 May. Following a short voyage back to Norfolk and to Yorktown, Va., the seaplane tender returned to Philadelphia on 11 May to prepare for in-activation. By January 1947, Tangier was out of commission, berthed with the Reserve Fleet at Philadelphia. On 1 June 1961, her name was struck from the Navy list; and, on 17 November 1961, she was sold to the Union Minerals & Alloys Corp. for scrapping.
See USS Tangier for other ships of the same name.
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